Education Discussion


Give our Students LESS SCHOOL – MORE PLAY!!

Few parents will argue that play is not good – is not healthy – for their children. Mos of us know, on some level, that playing, imagining, physically interacting for no structured purpose, is good for us. And if you ask kids, they will tell you it is necessary. It is their job in fact PLAY. Depending on your age though, memories of what play was and notions of what it should (or could) be vary widely.

My 92 year old grandmother says play for her was being outside and not having to do chores. Play was the opposite of work – it was free choice and self-guided. And almost completely unsupervised. She was 6 when she was allowed to take her 3 and 4 year old siblings outside to play. Let’s call this EXTREME PLAY.

When I asked my 65 year old father about play when he was a kid, he had a similar answer to my grandmother: get away from adults and go outside. Riding bikes and exploring his town, having freedom to make his own choices, building forts and finding ways to have fun. His examples came from play he remembers as an older child, maybe 10 or 11. As he recalls it, he was allowed to roam freely throughout the town he grew up in (small-town Central Valley in California) and as long as you didn’t get in trouble, you were on your own.

I am 47 and for me, my memories of play are a little more stifled. I was allowed to go to close neighbors’ homes but certainly not out of sight. Play in the yard was allowed but I was 13 before I took my first really long bike ride on my own. Play as a small child was usually on my own or on Sundays at church. I did not go to preschool or day care. I stayed home with my grandmother who loved to read and loved to read to me. I was allowed to play as I pleased, but there was no thought given to my play – no one looked and said “Gee, maybe she needs a play date with some other 4 year old’s.” It was kind of quiet.

For my kids (now 16 and 13), they tell me they feel play was always available and it came to them in may different ways but usually close to home or structured and supervised. I would agree – I was not a big fan of letting my kids go where I could not see them or interfere if I thought it was necessary (and of course I often thought it might be). Looking back, I think I would have made quite a helicopter mom if I had not realized at some point early on that I was making all the decisions for them, thereby negating all the possible benefits of play: social skill development, self-confidence, conflict resolution, language development, imagination, experimentation with real-life scenarios, and just plain old FUN.

As educators, we focus heavily on pedagogy and program design/implementation. We think about assessments and progressions and differentiation of instruction for successful skill development. We want critical thinkers, close readers, investigative information seekers and minds that can flourish in the world of the future.

This is where people like Dr. Peter Gray, Sir Ken Robinson, and others who advocate for children as they are – inquisitive, playful, creative and imaginative beings ALREADY. They don’t need us to tell them that play is important; they are born for it. That parents, caregivers, teachers, and scientists are still trying to figure out why is not important to the kids. They are ready anytime – all the time – and they don’t need us to tell them. IT IS TIME TO PLAY!

Scholastic – What Is Dramatic Play and How Does It Support Literacy Development in Preschool? Grades: PreK–K

Resources list from NAEYC:



Programming for Preschool – Recognizing the Needs and Designing the Programs

There is a terrific article by Dorothy Strickland and Shannon Riley-Ayers posted on the Reading Rockets website entitled “Early Literacy: Policy and Practice in the Preschool Years” (Preschool Policy Brief, 2006). As more and more early childhood educators and healthcare professionals raise awareness of the impact that early literacy interactions can have on the development of literacy skills in infants and toddlers, the more critical is is that parents and caregivers find meaningful ways to offer those skills. Of the many points made by the authors, these seemed to be the most critical:

Literacy development starts early in life and all aspects of child development are interrelated and occur simultaneously.

If a child’s exposure to language and literacy is limited, they are more likely to have difficulty learning to read

Predictors of reading and school success include oral and print knowledge

The policy recommendations they offer:

Programs must have strong literacy components that include differentiated instruction for children with special needs.

Curricula and teaching practices should be evidence-based

Standards should be established consistent with overall program goals

Assessments should use multiple methods and be formative in nature to improve the overall preschool program.

It is essential that literacy skills get off to an early start so that there is not a gap later in the learning and development of these skills for children as they grow. This article is another good reminder that we are all educators in the lives of the children we raise and those we serve in the library. Our knowledge must always be developing and growing so that our programming and services are always evolving to better meet the needs of our patrons, no matter how young.



Read, Rhyme, and Romp by Heather McNeil

Publisher: Libraries Unlimited; 1 edition (June 26, 2012)

ISBN-13: 978-1598849561

This is a book I have used for several years now both as inspiration and as guidance when trying to help new school library staff work out strategies for developing programming plans in their school libraries. The author, Heather McNeil, discusses in her book Read, Rhyme and Romp the many ways to bring story telling and relevance into the programming for children, how and why you should incorporate music and other media into programming for young children, the importance of movement and play in the library and the emphasis on acceptance and a shared purpose in the story time events. Chapter 3 is worth looking at in particular as she discusses the importance of print and developing an understanding for children that words on the page have meaning and that they can use words for meaning in their own communications. “Print has Purpose” looks at the impact of this understanding between what is written on a page and what is understood by readers and gives a better view on how to harness that relationship to enhance the stories we share with our young readers (and listeners) when we are with them in the library.

Another invaluable resource is:

Reading Magic: Why Reading Aloud to Our Children Will Change Their Lives Forever by Mem Fox

Publisher: Mariner Books; Second Edition, Updated and Revised edition (July 7, 2008)

ISBN-13: 978-0156035101

For those familiar with Mem Fox’s picture books for children, you know she has some talent and and insight in recognizing magic for children’s minds. This book explores the science and anecdotal observations many caregivers and educators have relied on for a very long time: Reading to kids is good for them. My grandmother knew it, my aunts knew it, my kindergarten teacher knew it and my librarian knew it too. They may not have known why or how to make a good storytime into a GREAT storytime, but they knew it was good and so they did it the best way they knew how. This book provides the professional research and data that backs up and fortifies any efforts to expand and improve children’s services. And if you have never read Mem Fox’s picture books, there is still time!



Babies and Screens: How much is TOO much?

NPR’s Elise Hu has posted a great story on the “All Things Tech” page on and she takes a close look at the impact – and the invasion – of technology and screens into our babies’ lives. She notes that just 2 years ago, only 8% of families with babies surveyed said they had an iPad or other tablet in the house. Today, that number has jumped to 40%. Young children with access to these devices is now at approximately 75% according to the recent report from Common Sense Media. (Read the full report.)

Drawing a distinction between passive screen time and active screen time, pediatric groups have recommended less of the passive viewing and more of the active/interactive screen time for babies and toddlers, keeping total time to a minimum. As with anything involving young children and development, parents must keep in mind the value of interaction and social connection. Skype and other interactions that involve screens have a much larger value than watching an episode of Barney or even listening to a story read out loud from a tablet. And just because it says “Educational” does not automatically mean a child will benefit. By keeping parents involved with the baby and the screen, the personal connection remains and the interaction opportunities are more likely not to be missed. The best educational experience a young child can have is still a live one.




Pre-K picks up STEAM

This is a great post from Lisa G. Kropp is the youth services coordinator at the Suffolk Cooperative Library System in Bellport, NY. on her blog for School Library Journal. I love her perspective on using the old to get to the new – by taking the best of her young children’s programming and using it to focus more directly on STEAM, she sets a great example for all of us working with infants and toddlers. Examine your programming, hone your skills and focus your goals – these are ways children’s services librarians can stay connected with education, relevant in their communities, and build services founded in best practices targeting early child development. And have a great time doing it!

Teaching STEAM with Lois Ehlert: Preschool isn’t too early to introduce STEM + art.

AND…. if you are looking for some regular input on programming ideas and STEAM inspiration for programming in your library for children, I highly recommend the blog of Amy Koester, Youth & Family Program Coordinator in the Learning Experiences department at Skokie Public Library – I love that her library department  is unique and forward-thinking: “Learning Experiences Department!” Sounds so much more interesting and compelling than “Children’s Services” right?! Anyway, Amy’s blog “The Show Me Librarian” is packed with ideas and photos of STEAM activities and explorations that will help anyone serving children in a library find a way to bring Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Mathematics into the literacy and learning environment. She has ideas that can be implemented easily and inexpensively – and keep the kids and their familiar coming back again and again. So put some STEAM in your library programming and watch it blast off! (Be sure to wear your helmet!)



Babies can Learn Literacy Skills at the Doctor’s Office Too!

An article in the New York Times in June of 2014, “Pediatrics Group to Recommend Reading Aloud to Children From Birth,” By Motoko Rich, brings exciting news about our nations’ approach to early literacy and the importance being placed on that early step towards word fluency and phonetic awareness.

Literacy development starts early in life and all aspects of child development are interrelated and occur simultaneously. If a child’s exposure to language and literacy is limited, they are more likely to have difficulty learning to read and known predictors of reading and school success include oral and print knowledge and phonic awareness. But how and when do parents and caregivers measure skill development in their areas? The answer is usually at the same place where baby is weighed and measured for other developmental milestones: at the pediatrician’s office. And more and more of these healthcare givers are recognizing that as a child’s development depends on constant growth and stimulation, so too does literacy for that child. And if the child is coming in regularly to see the doctor, why not send the parent out with a book under the arm and a few tips on how to bring words into baby’s life along with diapers and strained peas?

As with any successful program for literacy instruction, recommendations for success include:

  • Programs must have strong literacy components that include differentiated instruction for children with special needs.
  • Curricula and teaching practices should be evidence-based
  • Standards should be established consistent with overall program goals
  • Assessments should use multiple methods and be formative in nature to improve the overall preschool program.

Programs such as Reach Out and Read, a nonprofit literacy group that enlists about 20,000 pediatricians nationwide to give out books to low-income families, have partnered with healthcare providers to ensure that books are available, reading skills are modeled for the benefit of parents, and that under-served populations in low-income areas of the U.S. receive the combined benefits of regular medical exams as well as reading material. The group is working with Too Small to Fail, a joint effort between the nonprofit Next Generation and the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation that is aimed at closing the word gap.

By bringing literacy to caregivers and their charges in a safe environment, an environment that already holds great value and validity for them, literacy is prescribed in a way that makes it seem very natural. Pediatricians are expected to have children’s welfare always in the forefront of their services to families – literacy development fits perfectly into that. 


Emergent Literacy – Marie Clay has shaped the theory

In the October 2014 issue of The Reading Teacher (Vol. 68, Issue 2, pp. 88-92), Stuart McNaughton of the International Reading Association offers an interesting look into the theories of developmental education and Reading Recovery practices which have been heavily influenced by the work of Marie Clay. Clay’s body of work spans from 1972 through 2005 and as McNaughton points out in this article, Marie Clay has taken many important theories and applied them to practices of early learning and intervention that continue to influence teaching and early instruction today. The impact of a teacher working with an emergent reader are particularly noteworthy as more attention has shifted recently to instruction practices targeted for Pre-Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten classroom. Teachers must adapt and  find a way to connect and take on the role of “expert” for their students in order to instill confidence and inspire a drive to overcome obstacles in learning.

This article is worth the time to explore how Marie Clay’s interpretation of other theorists concepts and models such as a  Zone of Proximal Development and the model of scaffolding have resulted in the content of teaching pedagogy and practices. My favorite tactic is “roaming around the known” which keeps students and teacher in an extended exploration of content within the student’s comfort zone and then gradually expands that area of knowledge. This is an excellent tactic for librarians to keep in mind when encouraging developing readers and gradually bring them to higher skill levels.

The article may be viewed through the IRA website follow the link to The Reading Teacher. You must be a member of IRA (which I highly recommend becoming!) to view the full text or you may purchase it. There is a preview of the article available.

McNaughton, S. “Classroom Instruction: The Influences of Marie Clay” The Reading Teacher. (October 2014)



Literacy Between Zero and 3

I recently read the white paper from Zero to Three A Window to the World “Early Language and Literacy Development” written by Jaclyn Kupcha-Szrom (February 2011) and the policy recommendations they make for early literacy instruction and program design I believe is spot-on when addressing the needs of the very young children we serve. The literacy gap is real and it grows as these children develop from birth to age 3.

The position of the ZERO TO THREE Policy Center is that by age 3, the gap is established and grows rather than diminishes once children enter elementary school. The recommendations from this group encompass many aspects of advocacy for literacy programs from birth through grade 12 including family engagement and funding for programs and professional development for those who serve this population. The key element in the recommendation is the impact of early reading engagement with babies and toddlers on the developing literacy skills of this young children.

Early experiences for babies and family interactions are an important part of early literacy development and professionals who work to provide these early literacy experiences are a key part of that process. The impact of story tellers and programming in libraries for this group of children and their families is a critical piece in the puzzle of early childhood literacy and essential for closing the early gap in children’s language abilities.





Girls Are Conquering the Classroom!

A recent “study of studies” (using metadata from 369 studies worldwide) by Daniel and Susan Voyer at the University of New Brunswick, shows that in spite of the widely-held belief that boys do better in math and science, it is girls who are the superstars in the classroom in every subject and in every country. Beginning in Kindergarten and continuing through high school graduation, globally girls get better grades in school. Released in April 2014 in the American Psychological Association Bulletin (Vol. 140, No. 4, 1174–1204), the Voyers’ meta-analysis of data from studies between 1914 to 2011 show clearly that there is a clear trend and looks at some of the possible reasons for it. Although the findings showed that boys do in fact tend to perform better than girls on standardized tests in math and science, girls received higher overall grades in all subjects over the course of the entire school year. This may be due to boys’ performance-based motivation, allowing them to focus on doing well on a test but not necessarily mastering the material in-depth. The competitive nature of boys taps into this notion of the “test = challenge”. Perhaps girls are encouraged to work harder by their parents, or maybe girls and boys are equipped differently for the rigors of school work (organizational skills, social skills, attention span, etc.).  Mastery of course work pays better dividends over the long haul than cramming for exams and this is where girls appear to excel. Martin Seligman and Angela Lee Duckworth found in their 2006 study that by middle-school, girls edged out boys in self-regulatory skills and self-discipline. Girls were more likely to set goals, listen to instructions, and by academically persistent.

Research like this is fascinating because it creates such a quandary for educators and policymakers. Do we want students who get high test scores? If this is a basis for measuring teacher evaluation and overall school performance, then the answer is yes. If the goal on the other hand is to teach children well, giving them a depth as well as breadth of knowledge, then overall classroom grades in subjects may need to be given a greater weight. Standardized tests can only show a measurement of performance at one point in time. If students’ performance is to be more accurately measured, along with their progress towards learning achievement, then possibly the classroom grades and the grading systems used in schools, may need to be considered more carefully along with standardized tests.

Why is this important? Two reasons: 1) it is not a new trend in k-12 education, and 2) the new trend is the shift in college enrollment. “…in 2012, 71 percent of female high school graduates went on to college, compared to 61 percent of their male counterparts; in 1994 the figures were 63 and 61 percent, respectively. In other words, college enrollment rates for young women are climbing while those of young men remain flat.” We need to ask ourselves if somehow the school experience is a better one for the girls than the boys, and if it is, why?

As a person in the education field, I have some theories of my own. As the mother of a 13-year old son in 8th grade, I have others. One trend seems obvious to me: in 2012, only 2% of pre-K and kindergarten teachers and 18% of elementary and middle-school teachers are men. By secondary school it begins to balance out, with 42% of teachers being men (USA Today, 2012). Another trend I see often is the confusion in grading techniques for untrained teachers when it comes to evaluating the quality of thinking and content in assignments with the aesthetics of the final product. Girls are often skilled earlier than boys when it comes to penmanship and neatness in their school work and teachers who have trouble seeing beyond the messy handwriting to fairly measure the child’s understanding and thinking on an assignment may miss the tree in the forest. My son still struggles with his handwriting and has since 3rd grade felt inferior to his female classmates who had flowery, flourished handwriting and were able to turn in beautiful writing assignments. He now has developed mad keyboarding skills but that type of negative self-image and frustration is tough to overcome for any student, but apparently it is a proven fact that it may be a little more difficult to overcome if you are a boy.

The study by Daniel and Susan Voyer at the University of New Brunswick 2014 is accessible online here:

Why Girls Tend to Get Better Grades Than Boys Do
New research shows that girls are ahead in every subject, including math and science. Do today’s grading methods skew in their favor?The Atlantic
Enrico Gnaulatiser, September 18 2014

Girls Make Higher Grades than Boys in All School Subjects, Analysis Finds,” American Psychological Association, Vol. 140, No. 4, 1174–1204, April 29, 2014

“What our schools need? A few good men.” USA Today. William Gormley Updated 8/13/2012



ELF 2.0 Initiative – Early Learning for Families

Tonight I sat in on a live lecture by Carolyn Brooks of the El Dorado County Library and Suzanne Flint, our current California State Librarian, as they presented a look at the new ELF program which is designed to be used in public libraries with young children in order to focus on early learning and literacy in the design and implementation of library programing. The ELF initiative is a broad and sweeping change to the types of programing for young children in years past: babies are allowed to nibble on board books, book kits are assembled for families to check out and use at home, including puppets, musical instruments, toys and puzzles and other items to support not just literacy, but the exploration of arts, dramatic play, math concepts, science theory and other comprehension skills. This is not the old box under the librarians desk with a few rattles and toys meant to keep restless toddlers content during quiet story time. ELF programming is intended to be noisy and messy; it is designed to bring out the active inquiry which naturally resides in these young library patrons and to encourage them to explore and learn from play in a library setting with the intent that this interactive play will incorporate a broad variety of library resources and ultimately lead to increased literacy in all ways.

I am encouraged by the science that is incorporated into the ELF initiative and while well-meaning children’s service librarians have long presided over infant and toddler story times and children’s services, I believe the shift to a more informed approach in young children’s programming based on scientific study of early child development is a clear path to more meaningful services to this young group and their families. As knowledge and study in this area expands, so to will the level of understanding for parents and caregivers on the important role they play in the literacy and language development of their young charges. This is an important area of community service that can best be provided by our public librarians through outreach and effective design models. I am excited to see that ELF will have modules that can be used by other librarians in the field and I hope that they will be strongly encouraged to incorporate those models into their programs.

For more information on the ELF2.0 Initiative (Early Learning for Families), go to


Trying to Focus on Early Childhood Literacy

With so many theories of learning and so many theorists contemplating and formulating theories over the course of the last century, I feel as if I am re-learning what it means to learn. Because I work in school curriculum at the county level, we use 21st Century Learning and Skills models quite often. The 4 C’s are the primary mantra here and the core pillars of much of our work in training teachers. Recently though, there is a push for renewed focus on Pre-Kindergarten and Transitional Kindergarten programs and with that has come a focus on research centered around early childhood development and learning and literacy research. Theories and theorists are being examined again and new, modified theories and approaches to learning are emerging.

One area I am particularly drawn to is the dual language learning in early childhood. After reading through the Week One materials for LIBR 267, I found my own research coming back to the question of the impact on early childhood development, particularly early literacy, in children from dual language environments and in dual language educational scenarios. I think my research paper may be leaning in this direction.

For anyone interested in the topic, here are some resources:

What does the research tell us about the language and literacy development of young dual language learners?

The language and literacy development of young dual language learners: A critical review   Hammer, Carol Scheffner, 01/01/2014

What are the features of the language learning environment in Head Start classrooms with dual language learners?

Support for extended discourse in teacher talk with linguistically diverse preschoolers  Jacoby, Jennifer Wallace, 11/01/2014

Program Preparedness Checklist Version 5

A Tool to Assist Head Start and Early Head Start Programs to Assess Their Systems and Services for Dual Language Learners and Their Families

Chapter 11: Measuring Quality in Early Childhood Setting, in Defining and Measuring Quality in Early Childhood Practices that Promote Dual Language Learners’ Development and Learning


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